A clergy friend of mine in another part of Tennessee posted to Instagram this morning a plan for her congregation to go outside and ring bells at the same time in the evening. A lovely idea!
It immediately brought a memory forward…something I haven’t thought about in years! In the early days of our mentoring/tutoring young children at an inner city church, I remember so well the children often didn’t want us to leave for the day. All of us had built relationships with these children and their families. They were comfortable with us and we with them. Their tutor was an important person in their lives. Tutors were consistent with their presence, consistent with their expectations, flexible on not so good days, people who expanded physical boundaries through lessons and books. Field trips.
So, one day this little first grade girl grabs my hand as the time to leave approaches; asks me to come home with her, stay with her. She even told me my husband would be okay if I would just stay with her! Oh, those kids!
My response was short and simple. One thing it included was an agreement between the two of us. I suggested we both “meet” outside that evening at 7 PM, each in our own spaces outside, and look at the moon. I had always started each tutoring day with asking the children “who are you special to today”? So, I suggested she think of why I might be special to her and I would think of why she was special to me. We would share our answers at our next time together. I asked her to say a little prayer for me and I would do the same for her. She was immediately onboard, making plans for her Mom to tell her when the time was right. And we shared very precious stories the next time we met.
What made this work was our relationship; our trust of one another; our time together throughout a school year. Our resource was our connection; it was not tied to anything tangible.
We had many tutors over many years in this ministry. They all provided the same intangible gift…in their own ways….connection.
I realize those connections were built by threads, over a period of time. I think the same of our current situation, finding ways to connect while we are all in a social isolation as well as physical.
I am more than grateful for our worship services available online; a very real sense of community is continued among people who have already built the connections…and invite others to join in that gift. The many ways we are being cared for by church staff will long be remembered.
I hope to look back on this time and know I have been intentional in connecting with people of all age groups, not just what we call the “vulnerable,” knowing that usually refers to age or health issues. I need to make sure no one need qualify. We are all vulnerable, regardless of age, of job security, of resources.
I want to look back and know I saw the same moon.
Everyday, we are barraged with more information about this virus, clearly needed to make good personal decisions based on public health experience and expertise. Yes, numbers matter. Yes, statistics paint a picture that can empower changes in behaviors. Credible medical information is gold right now. Government mandated behavioral changes can affect and modify outcomes. For sure. We are following those mandates and guidelines personally.
But in my mind, every day…..I wonder when we will acknowledge the dead as more than a number?
When will we hear a press release or conference, a lament at any level that extends ongoing sympathy and concern for these families? At our own levels? Our prayers personal and collective? When will we consider those at high risk (or no risk) now on ventilators, or critically ill, their lives ever changed? Their families who are experiencing fear based on a harsh reality? Their economics? The uninsured sick? We may have agreed to pay for the test but what about the several hundred thousand dollars ICU generated hospital bills? How do we let these people know they are more than numbers…..numbers I read most people don’t find impressive because they are “low.” Numbers always prefaced by “only”? There is no “low” or “only” if it’s your sister, your father, your spouse, etc.
I wonder who had a new grandchild? Left behind young children? Was a caregiver to an aging or sick spouse? Was a health care provider? Was a wise professor with years yet to teach? A grandparent raising grandchildren? A gifted artist? Someone simply beloved? What were their stories?
I know that many do pray for these precious people. We do. You do. Our congregations do. I would never suggest compromising their identities or becoming intrusive…but wish we could offer each family our individual and collective condolences.
I want to suggest we do all have a way to honor those who have died, their families and those who are sick…..and we can honor them every day.
We can start by ceasing to diminish them with social media posts that disclaim the significance and power of this virus; by dropping the denial, the inconvenience, the non compliance… and adjusting our lives to accommodate and model all of the guidelines at our disposal. This is a fluid situation…they will be added to as time goes on, almost daily. We need to listen to our public health officials…they are working long, stressful hours on our behalf.
Recognize that “high risk” includes far more than the elderly! It includes cancer patients, the immunosuppressed, diabetics, those with chronic illnesses and many more…in any age group.
We can all do this together. We may not enjoy the usual privileges but the privilege will be knowing each of us played a part in a return to wellness. It will mean those who died have been honored in the most important way we can.